Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was an enigma in Kenyan politics and a force behind the fight for Independence and multipartism, his name will forever remain in the history of this great nation for eons to come… His death was a big loss to Kenya and a major blow to his Luo community.
It shook the whole country…
It was in 1994, I was just a young boy in primary one by then. A year earlier, I had had the honour of meeting this great icon, at least I can brag among my peers, can’t I? Did you get to meet him? Don’t lie, I know you didn’t….
His death was big…
Anyway, I’m no political pundit by any standard whatsoever so you will forgive me, however, there is one thing that I can never forget about this man’s death… If you were my age or older in the village probably, you’d remember the famine that hit the country, it hit hard!
The government gave out relief food, maize and beans, to families. Do you guys remember, mahindi ya nyayo? It was a long, yellow maize grain, it made porridge taste so sweet. Then there was, maharagwe ya nyayo; this you could cook for hours but it did not get soft.
“Imekaushwa kwa stima!” the women alleged.
There was no maize, all you could see in farms was cassava, very large cassava farms. The farms belonged to the ‘wealthy’ families back in the village. Women worked on the farms but were paid with cassava tubers and occasionally had strong tea served to them in the farms if the owner was generous enough. My mother was among them, it was called orak/pagasa/otong’o in Dholuo.
The cassava was often boiled and taken with sugarless strong tea, dubia, or was simply dried and we would sit down, crash and sieve them to get flour for porridge or ugali. It was tough but we got used to this…
One eventful day, mom had gone to the the usual orak and was paid with lots tubers and luckily some sweet potatoes. Dad had also managed to get a quarter kilogram of sugar. It was a celebration like no other, SUGAR WAS AVAILABLE!!!
Cassava was boiled in a large clay cooking pot and strong tea prepared, we had sugar don’t forget! All this was for supper, my friend we really ATE!
I, still a young boy, slept with my parents in the main house while my elder brothers and sisters slept in the kitchen… That day, a few minutes past midnight, we were woken up by shouts, on a keen ear, we realised it was coming from the kitchen…
Mwizi! Mwizi! Mwizi! (Thief! Thief! Thief!)
“Wanaiba mihogo! (They are stealing cassava)
The shouts were steady, thieves had struck!
During this time, petty thieves broke in and stole foodstuffs. Did they know my father had bought sugar?
I was so scared. Dad woke up, armed with a machete and a flashlight, he had to defend his family, even it meant losing his own life. He opened the door, careful not to make a sound, and slipped out of the door. When he was safety out, he turned on his flash light and checked around the kitchen but caught no sight of anyone or even heard any movement. There was no sign of a break-in on the kitchen door…
All this time, my siblings were still shouting!
Dad called out on them, inquiring where the thief was…
“Wako inje!” Otis responded, we were 3 boys and 2 girls and he was the eldest, 17 years of age.
They stopped shouting.
Dad assured them that he was the only one outside and requested him to open the door, of which he did. He got in and tried to find out what really happened, it is at this point that he discovered that Otis had dreamt that someone was trying to break into the house to steal cassava, he woke up shouting and my other siblings joined in… Hahaha!
Another incident is how my siblings would fight over odeyo, the crust that remains after cooking ugali.
It is the year that people lost their lives after eating otugo diep or nyaka tanegi, a poisonous cassava species.
Kids also died after overeating boiled raw mangoes.
People died in cassava farms that had been protected by charms.
This hunger was real. It’s twenty years later and the memory still fresh on my mind like it just happened yesterday!
It was christened kej Oginga, Oginga’s hunger!